Thanksgiving

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It’s amazing how quickly Thanksgiving seems to be forgotten. We spend days, weeks, sometimes months preparing and looking forward to it, but it all seems to be gone in a flash the next day when our credit cards start flying.

Maybe this is how it is with all holidays, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Nowadays though, it seems like people (at least big mega stores) are willing to cruise through Thanksgiving and just get it over with in order to get to Christmas faster. This seems a little silly here in Little Rock, considering the weather was hovering in the 70s and close to the 80s only a week before Thanksgiving.

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I know I’m waxing sentimental here, but the thought of Thanksgiving as only a forgotten memory seemed pretty poignant as I started thinking about this post. Jay and I hosted Thanksgiving at our house this year, and although we hosted it for 8 people last year, the addition of 4 more people this year kind of pushed everything over the limit. For me at least, things were much less relaxed and I was always on my feet taking care of something. I don’t even remember having a decent conversation with my parents, much less anyone else. And although I had essentially starved myself that day to prepare my stomach for the huge food load, I could barely eat anything.

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Usually I try to document the food I’ve prepared, but that, of course, fell by the wayside as well. I did get some pictures of the table and the full spread that everyone contributed to, but the only food item I got decent pictures of was the pumpkin cake with caramel cream cheese frosting.

Regardless of the hectic-ness of Thanksgiving, I’m glad we had it at our house. It was more than I expected, and our little Hillcrest bungalo can’t take that many people, but it was fun, and I was impressed with how grown-up my table could look (thanks to mom’s table cloth, napkins, and other decorations). Next year Jay and I will be in New York, or DC, or Florida, and most likely we’ll have Thanksgiving just for the two of us, so it was nice to host a full-famile soire.

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As for the turkey: my mom instructed me how to prepare it, and the spell has been demystified. Even so, I’m not going to type up a recipe. It’s less of a recipe and more of a manner of just doing things, and although I don’t have it all written down, I don’t think I could ever forget it. Cooking the turkey was a whole lot easier than I though, you pretty much just season the heck out of it, and I think I might try my hand at cooking a smaller one during the year.

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Here’s a list of everything I prepared:

Cranberry Sauce with Port and Cinnamon
(original recipe courtesy Bon Appetit November 2007)
Note: I doubled the recipe because there were so many of us, but I had plenty left over

Ingredients:
1 cup ruby Port
2 cinnamon sticks, broken in half
1 cup dried cranberries (about 6 ounces)
1 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar

Method:
Bring ruby Port and broken cinnamon sticks to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Reduce heat to medium and simmer mixture 5 minutes.

Add dried cranberries to saucepan; simmer until slightly softened, about 3 minutes. Add fresh cranberries, 3/4 cup water, and sugar; bring to boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to medium-low; cover and simmer until cranberry sauce thickens and is darker in color and berries collapse, stirring often, about 20 minutes. Transfer sauce to bowl; cool. Discard cinnamon sticks.

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls
(original recipe courtesy Bon Appetit November 2007)
Note: I doubled this recipe as well. I thought the rolls were a bit dry, even though I cooked them less than recommended by the recipe, and pretty flavorless. I also added some honey to the egg-white glaze at the end.

Ingredients:
 3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 cups (or more) white whole wheat flour*
or regular whole wheat flour
3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk powder
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons quick-rising active dry yeast (from two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 large egg yolk
1 large egg white, whisked with 1 tablespoon water (for glaze)
3 to 4 tablespoons quick-cooking oats

Method:
Bring 3/4 cup whole milk and 3/4 cup water to simmer in small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add butter; stir until melted. Attach instant-read thermometer to inside of pan; let milk cool until thermometer registers 120°F to 130°F.

Meanwhile, combine 3 cups flour, potato flakes, dry milk powder, sugar, yeast, and salt in large bowl; whisk to blend. Add warm milk mixture. Stir to blend; mix in egg yolk. Knead mixture in bowl until dough comes together (dough will be sticky). Turn out onto floured work surface and knead until very smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky, adding more flour by tablespoonfuls as needed, about 8 minutes. Place dough in buttered bowl; turn to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Butter 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan or small baking sheet. Turn dough out onto floured work surface and divide in half. Knead each piece lightly until smooth. Cut each dough half into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into almost smooth ball. Arrange dough rounds in 4 lengthwise and 4 crosswise rows in prepared pan, spacing about 3/4 to 1 inch apart (rolls will not fill pan). Cover shaped rolls with kitchen towel and let rise in warm draft-free area until rolls have almost doubled in volume and have expanded enough to touch each other, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Gently brush rolls with egg-white glaze, then sprinkle generously with oats. Bake dinner rolls until light golden brown, about 28 minutes. Let rolls cool in pan 5 minutes, then pull rolls apart and cool on rack at least 15 minutes.

Pumpkin Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting
(original recipe courtesy of Food and Wine November 2007)
Note: I HATE pumpkin pie. I don’t know what it is, it’s just one of those irrational dislikes. Maybe it’s the texture or something. This cake tastes just like pumpkin pie and is almost as dense, but I liked it a whole lot more. The frosting is divine. I topped mine with the same candied walnuts that I made for the butternut squash and apple soup, and they were a delicious balance to the frosting.

Ingredients:
Frosting:
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 pound cream cheese, cut into 2-inch cubes

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
One 15-ounce can pumpkin puree
1/2 cup whole milk

Method:

  1. Make the frosting: In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water, vanilla bean and seeds. Cook over high heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Using a wet pastry brush, wash down any crystals from the side of the pan. Cook over moderate heat without stirring until a medium-dark amber caramel forms, about 9 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in the butter and heavy cream. (Don’t worry if the butter separates.) Discard the vanilla bean.
  2. Transfer the caramel to the large bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a whisk and beat at low speed until the caramel cools slightly and comes together, about 5 minutes. With the machine on, beat in the cream cheese, 1 cube at a time and beating well between additions, until silky. Transfer the frosting to a bowl and refrigerate until very firm, at least 6 hours.
  3. Meanwhile, make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour two 8-inch round cake pans. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, nutmeg and cloves.
  4. In a bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar and eggs at medium-high speed until fluffy, 3 minutes. Beat in the oil, then beat in the pumpkin puree. Alternately add the dry ingredients and the milk in 3 batches, beating well between additions.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a rack for 20 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to loosen the cakes, then invert them onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  6. Place one layer on a plate and spread with 1 cup of the caramel–cream cheese frosting. Top with the second layer and frost the top and side. Refrigerate the cake for 2 hours before serving.

Butternut squash apple soup with candied walnuts
(original recipe courtesy Michael Chiarello/Food Network)
Note: this is one of our favorite soups. The sweetness of the apples and the squash is balanced very well by the heat and spice of the spice mixture. Preparation takes a while, but it is well, well worth it. We made double the recipe and ate on it for a few days. It’s a hearty soup but not overly filling, and we both agreed it was on the healthy side, although it’s richness might persuade you otherwise.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sliced leeks, white parts only
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 cups peeled and roughly diced butternut squash
3 cups peeled and roughly diced apples
2 teaspoons Toasted Spice Rub, recipe follows
6 1/2 cups chicken stock or 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans low-sodium chicken broth mixed with 3 cups water
Sea salt, preferably gray salt
1 cup chopped Spiced Candied Walnuts, recipe follows, optional

Method:
Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat, and cook until it turns nut brown. Add the leeks and cook until slightly softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and saute briefly to release its fragrance.
Add the squash and apples, raise the heat to high, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Toasted Spice Rub and cook briefly to toast it, about 1 minute.

Add the stock or broth-water mixture, bring to a simmer, and partially cover. Adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook until the squash and apples are tender, about 40 minutes.

Transfer in batches to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Return to the pot, reheat to serving temperature, and season with salt.

Divide the soup among warmed bowls and garnish each portion with some of the walnuts, if using. Serve immediately.

Toasted Spice Rub:
1/4 cup fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup pure California chili powder (about 1-ounce)
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
In a small heavy pan over medium heat, combine the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns. When the fennel turns light brown, work quickly. Turn on the exhaust fan, add the red pepper flakes, and toss, toss, toss, always under the fan. Immediately turn the spice mixture out onto a plate to cool. Put in a blender with the chili powder, salt, and cinnamon and blend until the spices are evenly ground. If you have a small spice mill or a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding spices, grind only the fennel, coriander, pepper, and chili flakes. Pour into a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients.

Spiced Candied Walnuts:
Peanut or canola oil
4 cups walnut halves
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet, heat about 1-inch of oil to 350 degrees F.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add walnuts and blanch for 30 seconds. Drain and transfer nuts to a medium bowl. While nuts are still hot and slightly wet, add confectioners’ sugar and toss to coat nuts. Stir and toss until all the sugar has melted into the nuts; if bits of unmelted sugar remain on the nuts, they will not fry properly.

Stir the nuts again before frying. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer a few nuts to the hot oil, allowing the foam to subside before adding another spoonful. (Otherwise, the oil could foam over and burn you.) Fry in small batches until the nuts are medium brown, about 45 seconds per batch; be careful not to overcook. Scatter on an unlined baking sheet to cool slightly.

In a small bowl, stir together cayenne, cinnamon, a pinch of salt, and the pepper.

While the nuts are still warm, transfer them to a bowl and sprinkle evenly with about half of the spice mix. Toss well to distribute the spices and then taste a nut. Add more spice mix, to taste, and toss well after each addition. When cool, pack in an airtight jar. They will keep at room temperature for at least 2 weeks.

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All posts and images copyright 2008 & 2009 Jenny Robertson, unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved. Any use of images without prior written consent is prohibited.
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